Sunday, February 27, 2011


Ballots are the rightful and peaceful successors to bullets - Abraham Lincoln

Turn on any news program and you will be watching rampant violence in countries whose people are struggling for freedom. Dictators and long entrenched rulers call the shots. Freedom is a word that applies to a few and not the masses. Certainly not to women. But change is in the wind, and social media seems to be the force behind the storm.

We have had our own struggles in this country as we first fought for freedom from England, found ourselves engaged in two world wars, achieved voting rights for women, brought about a symbolic end to slavery through the Civil War, and continued the fight for true equality for all. Electing African-American Barack Obama to the highest office in the land is certainly a mark of our evolution as a country, proving that anyone can attain the American dream.

As we celebrated President's Day earlier this week I wondered whose birthday we were really celebrating. Originally it was for our first president, George Washington. A few years ago Abraham Lincoln's birthday was added to the celebration and a holiday was picked between the two birthdays. As time went by, although nothing was official, some people began to think about the birthdays of former presidents in general. We have had so many wonderful leaders whose birthdays are worth remembering that perhaps a generic birthday "day off" is in order for them all, rather than just for Washington and Lincoln. Some seemed to be more effective as leaders than others, but they all made their contributions in our continued evolution toward the ultimate democracy, and a place where everyone has the hope of realilzing one's potential.

Because of our wonderful freedom of speech we can disagree on just about anything, even the effectiveness of former presidents. And if we don't like the way a president does his job, we can vote him out, unlike those countries who seem to have leaders for life no matter how ill suited or despotic.

In surfing the net I found a wonderful site entitled which is worth checking out, as it lists every president from George Washington to Barack Obama and their terms in office. Famous quotations from each are also listed. Anyone interested in history would enjoy the site, but teachers of middle and high school grades, whose students live in a "sound byte" world would find it particularly useful. It also provides a brief look at every major occurence from early exploration of our country to the present day. For those who like an easy read, this is truly a "thumbnail" U.S. history lesson.

I believe it behooves us to think about these former leaders, no matter what our personal convictions are, and to celebrate each of them, no matter how small their contributions seemed to be. They were part of the process that is at the heart of our political system. We only have to turn on CNN, MSNBC and Fox News to see the dreadful alternatives in so many other parts of the world.

I, for one, am truly thankful a stroke of fate allowed me to be born here and not in a restrictive country which represses its populace. I am also glad that our pioneering and entrepreneurial spirit has brought about the invention of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media sources that are making unheard of differences in the world's thinking. I am further thrilled that most of our country's citizens, who come from every corner of the globe, seem to appreciate our politcal system, and want others to enjoy a similar way of life.

Let's take a minute to honor our country and our presidents, past and present. Let's make Presidents' Day be for all of them and whatever they brought to our national table. If we can't do that, we should at least think about all of the people in the world who are NOT free, and who are dodging bullets, explosives, and police/military personnel seeking to control their lives, and be glad we are not one of them.

For my part, I say, with feeling, Happy Birthday, Mr. President, whoever you are. You were voted in by the people, and our country is better off for whatever role you played.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


Though small, approximately the size of South Carolina, Panama has a story to tell. From early times when pirates plied the Caribbean waters to the later building of the Panama Canal, this Central American country has played an important role in commerce and tourism. There are activities to suit every desire, and restaurants to delight anyone’s taste. The Panama Planner: Your Guide To Travel In Panama is a wonderful pictorial resource for travelers. You can also click on this youtube link for a virtual Panama tour and a visual look at what you might see as a visitor.

Here are some ABCs of this amazing country:

A = Artisan Fishing at Playa Blanca is an exciting sight. Lucky visitors to Casa Guardia can watch this phenomenal event from the rancho and pool area. Tourists wandering along the beach are allowed to help fishermen pull in large nets filled with local fish one can buy right on the beach. Pelicans and frigate birds wait for an easy dinner.

B = Buildings tower high in Panama City, creating an awe inspiring skyline

C = Colon, the Atlantic entrance to the Canal, has spectacular beaches and underwater beauty.

D = Dollars are the same as in the U.S.

E = El Valle de Anton features artisans’ market daily

F = Favorite snacks include snow cones and fried plantain rounds. Friendly people abound

G = Green season is mid-May to mid-December. Dry season is mid-December to mid-May.

H = Handicrafts are created by members in seven living Indian cultures. They include molas, nut carvings, woven baskets, and jewelry.

I = Isthmus is the narrow area where the canal was built.

J = Jungle and rainforest tours are available daily.

K = Key domestic industries include the canal, tourism and financial services

L = Le Bistrot French Restaurant with guitarist Gelasio Morales is a “must visit” tourist treat in Panama city.

M = Music lovers enjoy salsa, pop and American rock. Guitar is a favorite instrument.

N = National Bird is the Harpy Eagle

O = Ornithologists delight in observing hundreds of bird species

P = Panama Canal is called the 8th wonder of the world

Q = Quetzal birds are particularly beautiful. (See "bird species)

R = Retirement mecca for people from all over the world

S = San Blas Islands are a Caribbean paradise

T = Tropical climate boasts 85 degree F average daytime temperature.

V = Vegetable Ivory, another name for the tagua nut, holds beautiful art carvings

W = Water activities include white water rafting, surfing, diving, sailing and sportfishing

X = Xoko Restaurant (pronounced cho ko) located in Santa Clara has the best Gazpacho I have ever tasted. Chef Rolando Sanchez has a couple of secret ingredients that make a difference!

Y = Year round sunshine and outdoor lifestyle makes a great vacation destination

Z = Zipline rides through a rainforest canopy and over a waterfall should not be missed.

Right now children in Panama are enjoying their summer vacation. It is from mid-January to mid-April. According to my sources, kids love softball, basketball, volleyball and biking. Little girls like Barbie dolls, jumping rope, and swinging. TV and video games are popular with all children as are outdoor games like "hide and seek".

For teachers and homeschoolers here are some important
statistics about the country and schools in Panama. Following that are some books you can read to your students or own children about the country along with seven engaging activities that will allow students to have an armchair cultural adventure.

Conejito: A Folktale from Panama is a story about a bunny who tries to avoid being eaten by a fox, lion and tiger.

The Panama Canal by Elizabeth Mann and Fernando Rangel, gives young people an understanding of how the canal was constructed in a way that is easy to understand.

Into Wild Panama by Elaine Pasco offers a glimpse into the flora and fauna of Panama.

One Tiny Turtle by Nicola Davies and Jane Chapman tells about a little baby Loggerhead turtle who grows up, leaves her home and later returns.

Over In The Jungle by Marianne Berkes and Jeanette Canyon is a beautifully illustrated rhyming and counting book based on rainforest animals.

If you like teaching with "multiple intelligences" centers consider these:

Linguistic: Read the story above about the Panama Canal. Copy a map and have children trace the location of the canal.

Interpersonal: With partners make a relief map of Panama, including the canal. Make boats of paper or clay and place them in the canal.

Intrapersonal: After hearing the story Into Wild Panama, go to the internet and look up the harby eagle, the national bird of Panama. Draw or print a picture of it. Write three facts about the eagle.

Logical Mathematical: Read the story Over in the Jungle. Make your own jungle counting book. Learn to
count in Spanish. Learn some other words as well. Click on the "count in Spanish" site.

Bodily-Kinesthetic - Take the class outside for a game of hide and seek, or play a variation of it in the classroom while listening to salsa music.

Visual-Spatial - Read about the various handicrafts of the Panamanian indian tribes. Find pictures of molas on-line and have students design molas with crayon or craypas. Try weaving with paper strips. Check out the sites above to see baskets and molas. Color the flag of panama by printing off a copy from the flag site.

Musical - Have a tape recorder or other cd player with latin music for listening. Try dancing the basic cha cha in the classroom. Listen to Panama's national anthem.

Sunday, February 6, 2011


Learning about a famous canal, birdwatching, choosing a mola, artisan fishing, a rainforest waterfall and a peek at many more exciting adventures in Panama will soon be posted. And all this while staying at our friends' beach front luxury casa. You too could be part of this magical scene. Check it out at:

On the back to reality side, the Panama article will feature seven "multiple intelligences" activities for elementary school teachers who want to teach their students about this amazing country.

For now, though, I am going to stroll across an emerald green lawn, cross a narrow country lane to the other side of the property and spend the day pool side or under a romantic thatched rancho. Forget Seattle rain for awhile. I'll bask in 80 degree sunshine, look out at the Pacific Ocean, and float for hours in the pool. Perhaps this evening, like last, we'll add moon and star gazing while sipping chilled white wine and philosophizing about life. Like our host said, "It doesn't get any better than this. . . we are in Paradise."